Paddling for Clamming
Kayak Tillamook supplies the boats, the paddles, PFD’S (Personal Flotation Device) and the expertise while you slip inside the cozy confines of a sea kayak that allows you to go “Paddling for Clamming.”
Lead guide, Marc Hinz, said that all you need do is show up “dressed for the day,” but he cautioned: “Wear anything but cotton! Our standard mantra is ‘cotton kills’ because it absorbs the water and holds it to next to your body, so it’s bad news. Good news are the synthetics or even wool clothing.”
We timed our visit across Nehalem Bay in Tillamook County during the last hour of the ebb tide.
“It’s my favorite time of the tide and time of the year,” noted Hintz. “There are more visible wildlife like eagles and elk and fewer people around so it fits together well for a unique adventure.”
A slow moving outgoing tide eased our paddling from the Nehalem Bay County Boat Ramp (located just off Coastal Hwy 101 north of Wheeler, Oregon where you should be prepared to pay $3 for a parking permit) on a journey toward inter-tidal mud flats.
Hinz said it was a good time of the tide to be on our adventure: “It’s perfect – there’s just a little bit of outgoing to help move us along. If it’s going out really fast or coming in really fast it’s harder to paddle against the current. On this sort of trip you really want the bottom of the tide.”
Our party traveled to the area at this particular time of the tide for good reason: we wanted to dig our dinner – really! We were after bay clams that most folks overlook or have never heard of called the Eastern Softshells.
As the name suggests, eastern softshell clams are not a native clam species. The bivalve was introduced to Oregon coastal estuaries more than a century ago to jump-start a commercial shellfish industry.
Mitch Vance, a shellfish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the eastern softshell occupies a unique habitat niche that doesn’t compete with other more popular bay clam species like cockle, steamer or quahog clams.
As a result and put simply, the eastern softshell doesn’t get a lot of pressure.
The lack of popularity may be the reason for a generous 36-clam daily limit.
That – plus the fact that digging the clams takes effort – and – you should be ready to get dirty. You see, the clams live in a soft sandy, gravelly and even muddy substrate and you must dig down a foot and a half to reach them.
My favorite technique is to dig a large hole and then excavate the sides of the hole outward. The technique reveals the clams where they live.
If you follow the technique you can easily pick the clams off the sides of the ever-growing hole.
But be prepared to get dirty in the doing of the deed, but for me, it’s sort of activity that makes you feel like a kid again!
Vance added that eastern softshell clams can be dug up and down the Oregon coast: “Tillamook Bay, Netarts Bay, down to Yaquina and Coos Bays are all really productive for bay clams.”
Remember that all clammers – 14 years and older - must have an ODFW shellfish harvest license. Each clammer must bring a container for the catch too.
“Everyone should dig their own clams,” added Vance. “And keep them in their own containers. That way we avoid one person digging clams for others. Each person should take part in the recreation.”
In addition, if you choose to paddle your own canoe or kayak, remember that you must purchase/carry an Oregon Aquatic Invasives Species Permit.
The permit is required for boats 10' long and longer.
The annual permits are for sale through ODFW License agents or from their website. One and two-year Tyvek tags are available through the Oregon State Marine Board. An on line form is also available.
“The softshell clams reach 4 or 5 inches in length and the digging of the clams is really just the start. For me, the best part of the adventure takes place in the kitchen where I enjoy cooking the catch even more.
A flick of a sharp knife blade opens the clam shell and then the meat is rinsed off.
I also cut away and clean off the clam’s stomach and its contents. Most of the meat in an eastern softshell clam is found in the neck. I like to use the knife blade to open up the clam neck, so the entire affair lies flat on a plate.
In my kitchen, the clam meat gets a bath of flour – then an egg wash and then another bath of cracker crumbs before it goes into the hot oiled frying pan – I prefer olive or vegetable oil.
Don’t cook the clam more than a minute per side for there’s nothing worse than an overcooked clam.
The cooking of the catch rounds out the day-long adventure – one that’s waiting for you in an Oregon estuary this spring and summer.
The Oregon Department of Fish and wildlife offers an online shellfish map that locates bay clams beds throughout the state’s coastal estuaries – it’s a valuable resource for novice or experienced clammers alike.
“It’s really fun for families to go clam digging,” said Vance. “It’s easy to do, not a ton of gear required and it’s something kids can do too. Plus, you get to eat what you catch!”
CLAM COOKING RECIPE
Eastern softshell clams
bread crumbs, panko or cracker crumbs
salt & pepper
vegetable or olive oil
After removing the clam necks from the shell, peel off the outer brown skin and cut off the black tip. Then "butterfly" the neck so it lays out flat.
Coat the pieces in flour, egg, then bread crumbs (panko or cracker crumbs work well too) and lightly salt and pepper if desired.
Heat oil in a medium skillet until hot enough to fry. Cook clam until golden brown - just a minute or so or they quickly become chewy.
Focus On Nature
Many believe that great adventures only happen in distant, far off lands.
But not Nancy J Smith!
She prefers prowling her home state’s soggy trails for sneak peeks at nature – like the short hike into University Falls in the Tillamook State Forest.
“Oh, there’s so much to see in here…even the gorgeous white bark on these alder trees is just beautiful,” exclaimed Smith with a broad smile.
As she clutched her well used Canon camera, she added, “I love what I do – can you tell?”
It is easy to fall in love with University Falls; the trail rises and falls on a short half mile trek before dropping steeply to a viewpoint at the base of the falls on the north side of Elliott Creek.
Elliot Creek is a small drainage so the falls won't flow nearly as powerfully in the summer as they do in the winter.
That’s especially true following a heavy rain when the fully charged creek creates a scenic 55-foot falls that is more akin to a silky wedding veil draped over a wall of rugged basalt.
It results in a stunning show for photographers.
Nancy’s husband, Bert Olheiser, was by her side on an otherwise grey-shaded drizzly day.
He carried the gear and shielded the camera lens from the light but constant rainfall.
“I’ll help her get to the spot and get the equipment set up,” said Olheiser. “And then I stand back and say, “Nancy, work your magic.”
Nancy’s camera magic often means getting her feet wet in water that’s cold as ice.
“Sometimes I get in the creek and sometimes I balance my tripod and my feet on the slippery rocks along the bank,” said Smith. “I do what I can to make the scene look good.”
Smith has not only made Oregon “look good” for nearly 25 years, but she has captured beautiful breath-taking iconic scenes across the entire state and drawn a dedicated following too.
She prides herself in capturing a scene that puts you on the spot, fills you with pride for Oregon’s wonder and puts a smile on your face too.
But here’s the thing – the camera she has used throughout her career isn’t digital but film.
“This Canon film camera is the one I‘ve always used for my business – it’s my workhorse for sure and I love it. Some people may think that’s an old wave thing and maybe I’m keeping the tradition of photography alive, but it seems to work for me. I love the color saturation from film…it’s beautiful and people love it.”
People really love her “Majestic Pacific Northwest Calendars” too.
They have been a staple of Smith’s photographic repertoire since 1990.
In fact, her most recent effort, the Majestic Pacific NW 2013 calendar, won a Merit Award at the “National and World Calendar Competition.”
Her photos have been judged best of show alongside entries from National Geographic and Arizona Highways. In fact, the recent award was the fifth time she was recognized in the competition.
It’s pretty heady stuff for a woman who grew up in the countryside near her hometown of Gresham, Oregon. She fondly recalls childhood days of catching crawdads from nearby creeks.
“It was my playground and I fell in love with the outdoors at a very early age.”
As Smith approaches her sixth decade in the Oregon outdoors, she said that she has never lost that thrill that comes from exploring new places.
Her youthful exuberance comes from discovering something new each time she goes out and that keeps her young at heart too.
“She does have a lot of energy,” admitted Bert. “I need a cup of coffee or two to start moving in the morning but she jumps out of bed going 50 miles an hour. It’s her positive and open view to life that’s so inspiring. She really appreciates her time here.”
Judging from the sheer joy she found at Munson Creek Falls State Park near Tillamook, Smith shows no signs of slowing.
She admitted that her time in the outdoors is never about the destination, but what she might find in the small details along the journey.
Nancy J Smith said that insatiable curiosity keeps her on the trail of photographic adventures and the trail of her life.
“It really is the reason I get so excited,” said Smith. “My best adventures are the ‘along the way’ discoveries – the small things and life is like that too. If we just take the time to enjoy the journey, it’s so much better.”
Lake Billy Chinook Eagle Watch
Framed by towering 400-foot canyon walls, Lake Billy Chinook offers a unique perspective on Central Oregon that also provides plenty of elbow room.
The lake – due west of Madras – is framed by the snow covered Cascade Mountains to the west and a vast undulating high desert to the east – it is big country where distances are great and people are few.
But Oregon State Parks Interpretive Ranger, Paul Patton, noted that when it comes to Eagle Watch, the lack of people is actually a good thing:
“There are some days when you will see more bald eagles and golden eagles than you do people in the park. It’s just stunning to watch the wildlife.”
He’s right – we found a compelling wildlife show at Cove State Park’s Viewpoint #2.
The spacious viewpoint offers a breath taking view of the lake and its varied canyons – but we were soon drawn to a more dramatic life and death show that played out hundreds of feet below us on the lake’s surface.
Not one – but two - bald eagles repeatedly buzzed a flock of ducks. The little waterfowl were bunched up - wing to wing – so to avoid getting caught by the eagle’s sharp talons.
We watched this age old predator-prey game marked by multiple eagle dives – with talons extended – for more than fifteen minutes.
It was a remarkable activity amid a timeless rim rock country on a lake that’s more than seven miles long.
PGE Wildlife Biologist, Robert Marheine, said that Lake Billy Chinook has been a drawing card for the eagles for many years.
“Well, it’s a combination of plentiful food – (the lake is home to a bountiful l kokanee salmon) plus, huge rocky cliff escarpments that provide preferred raptor roosting and nesting habitat – it’s a special place.”
Marheine was quick to add that winter time eagle viewing demands preparation including warm clothing, powerful but comfortable binoculars and finally, lots of patience.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve been out here with people who say, ‘Ahh, I don’t see an eagle,’ said Marheine. “And they jump into their cars and leave. Too bad! Usually, that’s when a bald eagle comes right up to us on a thermal and drifts over our heads. If you bring patience, you will be rewarded.”
PGE’s “Round Butte Overlook Park” is a good place to duck in to learn more about Lake Billy Chinook (the lakes formed when Round Butte Dam was completed in 1964) plus the eagles and other wildlife that live in the area.
It is also the main site for the annual “Eagle Watch” event that is co-sponsored by PGE and Oregon State Parks.
The popular event draws folks from all over the west during the last full weekend in February. Patton noted that many people come to Eagle Watch to learn more from the eagle experts and guest speakers who attend the two day event.
“Eagle Watch has grown into a major event for our region,” added Patton. “You can learn about the natural and cultural history of this area and usually see plenty of eagles. It is great fun for the entire family and it’s free!
Whether you’re a first time eagle viewer or seasoned researcher, Eagle Watch offers something for everybody.”
Winter has arrived across Oregon’s Willamette Valley – with a firm hold on the landscape that seems lasting as fresh snowfall lights up the scene near the small burg of Amity.
While indoors at the Brigittine Monastery, the “sweet” life has reached the boiling point inside a huge copper kettle as milk, sugar and butter combine to make a thick syrup slurry at 245 degrees.
“This will be chocolate fudge with nuts and right now it‘s boiling hot!” noted the Monastery’s spokesman, Brother Steven. “We’ll add two types of chocolate next and doesn’t it smell good in here?”
It always smells great in the kitchens of the Brigittine Monastery Gourmet Confectionary. It’s where half a dozen monks rely on time tested recipes to make daily batches of seven flavors of fudge.
Since 1986, the monks have lived outside the community of Amity, on a 45-acre farm that they work – they make chocolate candy as a way to become truly self-supporting.
Special equipment provides a one pound pour (there are approximately 150 pounds per batch of fudge) into lined boxes.
Brother Bernerd then applied the Monastery’s signature swirl across the top of each.
“That’s our trademark,” added Brother Steven. “Each pound of candy is swirled – in fact, everything we do is hand swirled.”
The Brigittines are the only monastic community in Oregon that makes candy and it is delicious!
Not just fudge, but a one of a kind, hand-crank truffle press pushes out creamy chocolate that becomes the hand rolled centers for truffles.
The Monastery produces a dozen different truffle flavors.
Business is booming at this busiest time of the year too. The Brigittine chocolates are shipped across the country and as far away as Europe and South America.
Brother Steven was quick to point out that the sweet treats provide the Monastery and its varied charities a self-supporting business, but it is not their most important business.
“We are in the business of praising God! said Brother Steven. “We are monks and our life is centered on the praising of God. We believe that we cannot change each other with war and violence – we do it with the grace of God and by prayer.”
The Monastery’s Chapel, their candy store and the grounds are open to the public seven days a week.
The Brigittine Monastery’s chocolate production is determined month to month based upon demand but this time of year, the fudge is poured and the truffles are rolled as a daily event.
In fact, the monks produce up to four batches of fudge a day in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
So now is a good time to stop in and sample some of their sweet heavenly chocolate candy where they like to say: “Good addictions start small!”
“You smell this wonderful aroma,” offered Brother Steven. “That’s what I like about the candy; you can be centered on God still and do your work.”